The day-to-day management of workers’ compensation matters is one of those nuts-and-bolts functions of government municipalities, like Findlay.
Granted, it’s generally of little public interest, but it’s still an important matter. Taxpayers always have a right to know how and why decisions are being made in city hall. It’s one reason why Ohio has open meeting laws.
The meeting process used recently by the city administration to shift control of the workers’ compensation program from the city auditor, who has been handling the function for at least eight years, to the city human resource manager raises troubling questions about open and transparent government.
Instead of meeting collectively and publicly with council on the workers’ comp subject, Mayor Lydia Mihalik called council members individually into May 24 meetings with Law Director Don Rasmussen, Human Resource Director Don Essex and herself to explain the proposed change.
Interestingly, Auditor Jim Staschiak was not included in the private discussions despite overseeing the program since taking office in 2011, and even though council had approved legislation in April for him to run it again this year. Staschiak, in fact, renewed a two-year contract with CompManagement to provide the city workers’ comp services on April 19.
The individual meetings were apparently called because the city was facing a May 25 deadline if it wanted to switch to CareWorksComp, a company that the Ohio Municipal League is encouraging its members to use to manage workers’ comp matters. The Municipal League is reportedly receiving compensation for each municipality that contracts with CareWorksComp.
Following the meetings with council members, Findlay signed on with CareWorksComp, effective July 2.
Certainly the public deserves to know more about the reasons driving the city to leave a company with a solid track record of reducing the city’s workers’ comp costs, for one that is a relatively unknown entity. Exactly what the city will get from CareWorksComp is still not publicly known. Are the costs and services to be provided comparable to CompManagement?
Under Staschiak’s partnership with CompManagement, the city has received $2.6 million in rebates and refunds, and worker safety levels have remained at a high level.
Mihalik’s proposal of putting control of workers’ comp under the city’s human resources department may be a good one, if that position is independent of the mayor’s office and reports to council.
There may be other reasons for the switch, but the process used to make the change was clearly flawed, and suggests a violation of the Public Meetings Act. The law prohibits round-robin or serial meetings like the kind held last month.
Such meetings circumvent the principle that government works best when its business is conducted in public — not privately.
Promises of transparency and openness are empty ideals when city government conducts business behind closed doors, and contrary to Ohio law. The community deserves better. It deserves more information.